Landscapes and Marines

The explosive development of landscape painting in The Netherlands in the seventeenth century comprised a remarkable range and variety of types, among them panoramas, river and canal views, dunes and country roads, woodlands and wheat fields, winter and moonlight scenes, Italianate and mountain vistas. The overriding naturalistic impression of these images is belied by the compositions’ dependence on artistic tradition and conventions. The associations evoked by the many representations of familiar nature varied: landscape could be an image of national pride, a retreat from increasing urbanization, a reflection of divine bounty, a reminder of the wellspring of Dutch prosperity, or simply a source of delight in providing an imaginative stroll through the countryside without leaving one’s armchair.

The Netherlands, which sits mostly at or below sea level, was a flourishing seafaring nation in the seventeenth century. Its merchant ships carried goods all over the world while its powerful navy protected the country from hostile nations. Dutch engineers developed advanced drainage techniques that led to land reclamation on a massive scale. Rivers and waterways ran through the country, on which sailing vessels of all types transported goods and people. The pervasiveness of water, the importance of overseas trade, and the economic dependence on local fishing stimulated an interest in paintings of marine subjects. Specialists excelled at capturing the atmosphere and weather conditions at sea, on inland waterways, and in harbors. These works could evoke delight; patriotic sentiments; or fear, confronting the viewer with people’s vulnerability in the face of nature’s powerful forces.

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